Illinois Public Media News
A new law signed this week sets aside clear boundaries for cities and villages in downstate Illinois to plan their future growth.
Those towns sometimes come into conflict with county zoning plans when they plan or annex new developments -- such as when Champaign approved an annexation agreement with a new Illinois American Water treatment plant two miles outside the city limits. The new law sets a one-and-a-half mile buffer around city or village limits before the county can restrict certain parts of those annexation agreements.
Champaign's deputy city attorney Trisha Crowley says local governments are fine with those limits.
"Basically it adds some certainty to the land use planning, so that's pretty important when you're making decisions that might involve development in 10,15, 20 years," Crowley said.
Smaller villages had also supported the new limits over worries that their planning efforts could be hurt by those of larger nearby cities. The new law doesn't affect counties in the Chicago or Metro East areas.
The Champaign School Board passed resolutions, and introduced new policies last (Monday) night related to the recently concluded Consent Decree for racial equity.
The school board had promised to enact the resolutions and policies as part of its settlement with the Consent Decree plaintiffs. And Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says board members are keeping their word.
"It means that our board is committed to equity and excellence for all students, and that we don't require court oversight to do what we believe is right," Sheppard said. "We want to show the community that we mean what we say."
The resolutions were passed unanimously. One reasserts Unit Four's commitment to the Consent Decree promise of adding new classrooms on Champaign's north side. The other resolution promises to continue the Academic Academy alternative program for at least two more years.
The policy proposals commit Unit Four to equity in its special education program, and in deciding school opening and closings. There will also be a new committee to monitor the school district's success in providing equity in education. The Champaign school board votes on the policy questions next month, after a 30-day public comment period.
Candidates for Illinois governor are making their initial trips across the state as they gear up for a crowded race next year.
Republican state senator Matt Murphy visited a Champaign restaurant early Monday morning in an attempt to get his name out among GOP faithful outside the Chicago suburbs. Murphy says his ability to win a close race three years ago in the Palatine area proves he's a worthy competitor for his party.
"I was outspent 2 to 1 in a horrible Republican year and won by 6 (percentage points). In a rematch in '08 I tripled that margin to 18 during the President Obama wave," saod Murphy. "So I'm a proven winner in elections and have the right message and the credibility to offer it."
As a relative newcomer to Illinois politics, Murphy also claims distance from disgraced former governor George Ryan as well as Democrat Rod Blagojevich. Fellow state senators Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale are also in the Republican race, as well as DuPage County GOP chair Bob Schillerstrom, Dan Proft and Adam Andrzejewski.
The Admission Review Commission's final report points to the practices of another U of I school as a guide to how political clout can be taken out of the process.
It says the College of Medicine received letters of interest from trustees or political leaders over at least six prospective students in the last six years, but none were admitted and the inquiries didn't affect the integrity of the process. Dean Joe Flaherty says the faculty committee that chooses med students is not accessible to outside influence - not even his.
"I couldn't get one of my own kids admitted even if I wanted to, which I wouldn't of course do it that way," Flaherty said. "They see all the grades, the scores, all the non-cognitive evaluations, everything that comes in. They make their decisions collectively every month. There isn't a way of sneaking a candidate in from the outside."
The report quotes Flaherty as telling inquiring trustees who asked about students that admitting people with political favor of any kind is the third rail of medical school.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says university officials will be meeting in Urbana next Wednesday, to decide how best to implement the recommendations of a state panel that investigated the school's admissions process.
In a news conference Thursday , White said he embraced the report's recommendations, and wanted to use next week's conference set the path for making the University of Illinois "the national leader in quality admissions process".
"I think that's the opportunity that has been literally handed to us by this painful chapter," says White. "Things went wrong in our admissions process. It is an opportunity for us, first, to fix the problems and then to set the standard with news."
White responded to a report that found unqualified students were admitted to the U of I because of political connections. Those students were followed by use of a shadow tracking system called Category I. White says the use of Category I is ended immediately.
The newest University of Illinois trustee has become the third to step down in recent days.
Greenville businessman Ed McMillan has only been on the board since May, but he submitted his resignation letter to Governor Pat Quinn Thursday, saying he wanted to comply with the recommendations of the Governor's Admissions Review Commission. McMillan says it's in his judgment that the most important thing is to put in place people, policies, and a culture that will let the U of I start regaining the confidence of the people.
But McMillan says he would like to continue in the role of Trustee if the governor sees him fit. "If I can, in his judgment play a role in developing a strong plan for the future, I stand ready to continue in the role that he originally intended when he nominated me," says McMillan. "But if not, I will support his decision. I stand ready to help the future leaders of the university move forward in a positive and progressive direction." Like the recent resignations of Trustees Lawrence Eppley and Naranjan Shah, McMillan's is effective in 90 days, or when a successor is found. At this point, McMillan says Governor Quinn will take good counsel from the recommendations made by the commission.
A Champaign County Board committee is recommending that voters be allowed to decide if the county auditor should remain an elected office.
The underlying issue at Wednesday's Policy Committee meeting was not the auditor's office but the auditor himself. Tony Fabri has been under a cloud since the News-Gazette analyzed phone records to conclude that the Democrat was often away from his desk. Democrat Carol Ammons argued that the performance of one office-holder was not reason enough to switch to an appointed auditor.
But Republican Alan Nudo said it was the people who should decide the future of the auditor's office. And he said the mid-term appointments of both Fabri and his predecessor Mike Frerichs to the county auditor position in past years amounted to political cronyism meant to bypass the voters.
"We've had two hand offs in-between elections in the auditors positon', says Nudo, "to high-powered officials within the (Democratic) party. Is that thwarting the will of the public? Is that this magical things that people bring up of how the elected is much better than appointed.
The Champaign County Board will consider the proposal August 20th. If they approve, the ballot question would come to voters in November of 2010. And if voters approve, the auditor's post would be appointed by the county board or perhaps the county administrator, starting in 2012.
Policy Committee rejected proposals to ask voters if they want to make the county coroner and recorder of deeds appointed as well.
A political newcomer will be giving incumbent state representative Chapin Rose his first challenger since first taking office. Democrat Dennis Malak of Tuscola announced his intentions Tuesday to run in Illinois' 110th district. The Chicago native says he'd challenge fellow lawmakers to seek out waste in government spending. While favoring an income tax hike, Malak says it would be a temporary maneuver:
"If it's going to be passed, it needs to be passed in a way that it does end in two years, and it does require supermajority to be renewed,'' says Malak. "Not only that, but it will require that for the next two years any additional tax increase will need a two-thirds majority so that there's no back door around it. We need to really force representatives to find the waste within the system so that we can get back on track, not just keep taxing the people."
Malak is also favors a longer school year, saying that would help students stay focused on difficult subjects and they forget a lot of information during the summer layoffs. He's a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, where he also works at the Doudna Fine Arts Center. The 28-year old received a bachelor's degree in political science there in 2004. Malak says he'd leave his job at EIU if elected, devoting his time as a full-time legislator. Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet, who's held the House seat since 2002, has not formally announced his re-election plans for next year, but has said he intends to run.
Operators of a Champaign soup kitchen say they'll be at a new location by next month. A volunteer with St. Jude Catholic Worker House says limited space and an overflow crowd have prompted their steering committee to look elsewhere.
Capacity for the soup kitchen is 24, but 60 to 80 people have been coming on busy days, forcing many to wait in line. The kitchen is already closed during August for maintenance. Volunteer Chris Watson says the house's steering committee hopes to pinpoint a new facility soon, but nothing's on the table right now. "We're wanting to take that and really find a space that will serve us the best as far as space and concerns of safety and noise,' says Watson. "But also kind of keeping that foundation and wanting it to be a personal and caring environment." The St. Jude steering committee will discuss alternate sites at a meeting Saturday. Watson says it may even consider a temporary home for the soup kitchen, and passing out sack lunches if necessary.
He says a change in location has little to do with disruptions caused by some people using the kitchen. As for the St. Jude house itselt, Watson says some restructuring will take place, but he says the home will continue to serve as a hospitality center, with volunteers on hand.
The Safe Haven tent community says it's struggling to find a place to stay, since being ordered to leave the St. Jude Catholic Worker House grounds in Champaign.
The group of about 10 to 15 homeless men and women living in tents were told to leave an RV park near Mahomet. They were given shelter --- indoors --- at a church in Champaign, but only for two nights.
Safe Haven member Jesse Masengale told the Champaign City Council Tuesday night that the situation looks grim.
"We are under crisis right now", said Masengale. "Each night, for 15 people, we're worried about where we're going to go."
Masengale and other Safe Haven organizers and supporters told Champaign council members that a tent community is a viable and low-cost option to help alleviate the city's homeless problem --- but that zoning laws need to be changed to allow them to continue. Organizer Abby Harmon asked the council to consider their proposal to allow tent cities to exist in Champaign under certain conditions. She says they've been meeting with individual council members to explain the details.
In the meantime, Safe Haven is asking the city for temporary leniency to let them pitch camp outdoors. Harmon says the ban on living in tents ---and the media attention they've received --- has scared away people and churches who might have helped them.
But Harmon says Safe Haven members are determined to stay together. She says the members feel that being homeless together is safer for them than each of them facing homelessness on their own.
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